SMU Law's Deason Center releases report that highlights role race plays in marijuana enforcement


DALLAS (SMU) – SMU Dedman School of Law’s Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center released a report today, The ABCs of Racial Disparity, which explores the impact of racial disparities in Dallas County marijuana prosecutions. This is the first in a series of reports that use municipal and county data to document trends in the enforcement of low-level drug crime arrests and prosecutions in Dallas County. The report looks at police enforcement in six Dallas County municipalities in 2018, providing a baseline to evaluate subsequent trends.


Reducing racial disparity in Dallas County marijuana prosecutions was among District Attorney John Creuzot’s early priorities. In April 2019 he announced that his office would decline to prosecute most misdemeanor cases of first-time marijuana possessions.

“There is significant racial disproportionality in the enforcement of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana misdemeanors,” said Pamela Metzger, director of the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center. “This study serves as a baseline measure of racial disparity in low-level marijuana-related offense enforcement in 2018 and demonstrates the strong need for reform in Dallas County.”


Key points from The ABC’s of Racial Disparity include:

• Black people were overrepresented in referrals to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office for Class A and B misdemeanor prosecutions for possession of marijuana in 2018 in six of Dallas County’s largest cities. For example, in the city of Dallas, only 24 percent of the population was Black. Yet, Black people accounted for 64 percent of the marijuana possession cases that the Dallas Police Department referred to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

• Black people were overrepresented in prosecutions for Class C misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia in 2018. For example, in Richardson, only 10 percent of the population was Black. Yet, Black people accounted for 45 percent of people prosecuted for possession of drug paraphernalia.

• In these cities, Black people were up to 7.7 times more likely to be prosecuted for Class C possession of drug paraphernalia than their non-Black counterparts.

• In these cities, Black people were up to 10.1 times more likely to be referred to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office for Class A or B prosecution for possession of marijuana than their non-Black counterparts.

Future reports will be released regularly throughout the summer and can be found at https://www.smu.edu/Law/Centers/Deason-Center/Issues/Prosecutorial-Discretion/Policing-Racial-Disparity. For media interviews, contact Lynn Dempsey at ldempsey@smu.edu or 214-768-8617.

If you would like to receive DALLAS Project reports and other prosecution related-items from the Deason Center, please complete the form here

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The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at SMU Dedman School of Law brings a stats and stories approach to criminal justice reform. The Deason Center collects, analyzes, and assesses the hard data that data identify criminal legal policy and reform needs. Combining these data with the stories of people who live, work and struggle in our criminal justice system, the Deason Center makes a compelling case for smart, compassionate, and sustainable criminal justice reform. The Deason Center helps criminal justice stakeholders develop and implement best practices and supports data-driven criminal justice research that have utility across multiple jurisdictions. Through conferences, symposia, colloquia, roundtables, and working groups, the Deason Center fosters collaborations between scholars, criminal justice researchers and criminal justice stakeholders. The Deason Center also educates SMU students about criminal justice issues and provides students with academic and experiential opportunities to work in criminal justice policy and reform.